“In politics, stupidity is not a handicap,”wrote Napoleon Bonaparte in 1804 when his political treatise poignantly dissected the complex interplay between power and folly, where intellect often succumbs to the allure of manipulation and strategic ignorance. 

Minister Hamat Bah exemplifies this notion perfectly, as the Greek poets might say, donning the cloak of competence with the ease of a seasoned charlatan. Despite his lack of substantive education and intellectual rigor, Bah has ascended to a position of power within the Gambian government. 

His tenure as a state minister since the inception of the Barrow-led government in 2016 has been marked by a conspicuous absence of effective policy-making and a penchant for political theatrics rather than genuine governance, reminiscent of a jester at a medieval court rather than a steward of public trust.

Bah’s appointment is a testament to the idea that in the chaotic realm of politics, the ability to manipulate narratives and form opportunistic alliances often trumps actual competence. This mirrors the thoughts of British philosopher Bertrand Russell, who warned that power, when wielded by the unqualified, leads to disastrous consequences for society. 

Bah has weaponised his intellectual shortcomings to his advantage, relying on manipulation and opportunism rather than competence and integrity. His relationship with the truth is akin to a fox’s relationship with the henhouse, always circling but never truly engaging. 

He has demonstrated time and again that his commitment to factual accuracy is as fleeting as a politician’s promise, making unfounded claims with the theatrical flair of a sophist selling snake oil.

Demba Ali Jawo

His recent public spectacle, ostensibly a press conference, was a glaring example of political absurdism at its peak. Bah, with the zeal of a knight-errant on a quest for moral purity, accuses Demba Ali Jawo of defying cabinet recommendations by issuing broadcast licenses to the QGroup for QTV and QRadio. 

This, he asserts, has laid waste to the advertising industry—a claim so hyperbolic it could make the American showman, publicist, and abolitionist P.T. Barnum blush. One can’t help but ask: When did Bah become the self-appointed guardian of Gambian media? And why, pray tell, has he waited until now to unsheathe his righteous sword?

Bah’s assertion that GSM companies like QCell will monopolise advertising revenue reveals a charming naiveté about free markets. Competition, as Adam Smith famously argued, is the engine of innovation and improvement. The entry of GSM firms into broadcasting is not a death knell but a clarion call for diversity and enhancement in media services. 

In a truly free market, all competitors must have the opportunity to vie for success. Claiming that such ownership stifles competition is the pinnacle of economic ignorance. Excluding new players fosters a monopolistic environment detrimental to consumer welfare.

As aptly observed by Austrian-British academic Friedrich Hayek, the market functions optimally when competition is allowed to flourish, reducing prices and enhancing quality. In reality, there is no need to persuade anyone of the argument that allowing multiple players in economic sectors is beneficial for macroeconomic growth, as the evidence and facts are as clear as the noonday sun.

New entrants like QTV and QRadio have not only introduced cutting-edge technology to the broadcasting industry but have also rescued hundreds of youth from the brink of unemployment. More importantly, they have contributed significantly to government coffers through tax payments. What serious government would curtail investment or limit such progressive advancements?

In the words of the Greek poet Hesiod, “If you add a little to a little, and then do it again, soon that little shall be much.” This sentiment aligns with the economic principles espoused by Hayek, where incremental contributions by new market entrants accumulate to drive substantial macroeconomic growth. 

By fostering an environment that welcomes new enterprises, we witness an increase in aggregate demand and supply, stimulating economic expansion and job creation. The multiplier effect, wherein an initial injection into the economy leads to a larger increase in national income, becomes evident as these new players invigorate various sectors.

Considering the profound impact of these advancements, the government must recognise the invaluable contributions of these new market players. Curtailing their investments would be analogous to the folly critiqued by Sophocles in his tragedies, where short-sighted decisions lead to catastrophic outcomes. 

The opportunity cost of hindering such economic dynamism would be immense, depriving the nation of potential GDP growth and technological advancements. Furthermore, embracing a laissez-faire approach, where minimal governmental interference allows the invisible hand of the market to guide resources efficiently, can lead to optimal allocation and utilisation of resources, promoting sustained economic development.

Furthermore, it is essential to appreciate that such economic dynamism and vibrancy are the lifeblood of a thriving economy. The symbiotic relationship between innovation and competition is akin to the philosophical musings of Aristotle, who emphasised the importance of variety and multiplicity in achieving the highest good. 

In economic terms, this variety fosters productive efficiency and allocative efficiency, ensuring that resources are used in the most effective manner to meet consumer demands. The Schumpeterian concept of creative destruction, where old industries are replaced by new, innovative ones, underscores the necessity of continuous evolution and adaptation in the marketplace.

Simply put, fostering an environment that encourages new entrants and technological innovation is not merely a policy choice but a strategic imperative for sustainable economic growth. As the ancients would argue, wisdom lies in embracing change and nurturing the seeds of progress. 

By all accounts, Bah’s fearmongering about monopolised revenue is a red herring, a distraction from the government’s manifold inadequacies. This administration, with its parade of underqualified ministers, has shown a remarkable propensity for evading the truth—Bah being its foremost contortionist.

As such, Bah’s baseless accusations against former Information Minister Demba Ali Jawo were a transparent attempt to deflect attention from his own failures and the broader incompetence of President Barrow’s cabinet. Employing a sophist style, Bah made the weak argument that Jawo’s actions alone were responsible for the state of the media, using a straw-man tactic to misrepresent Jawo’s decisions and exaggerate their impact. 

Such rhetorical strategies are designed to strengthen a weak argument by diverting attention from the speaker’s own inadequacies. This aligns with the critiques of philosophers like Socrates, who condemned sophistry for undermining true discourse and fostering deceit.

“Truth is the first casualty in war,” wrote Aeschylus, and in this theatre of the absurd, truth was not merely a casualty but a deliberate target. Bah, assuming the mantle of the self-appointed guardian of Gambian media ethics, accused Jawo of single-handedly overriding cabinet decisions to grant broadcast licenses to GSM companies. 

The staggering lack of substantive evidence presented at the press conference was a clear indication that the event was more about political posturing than any genuine concern for governance or media integrity. Bah’s approach here reflects the Machiavellian belief that the ends justify the means, where manipulating the truth is a valid strategy for maintaining power. This deliberate targeting of truth is reminiscent of George Orwell’s warnings about political language being used to distort reality and control the populace.

Despite being intellectually deficient, politically bankrupt, and morally compromised, Bah has managed to remain in President Barrow’s cabinet—a feat that speaks to the administration’s tolerance for mediocrity and incompetence. Bah’s allegations, cloaked in the garb of righteous indignation, are a transparent attempt to discredit Jawo. The timing of these accusations, almost six years after Jawo’s dismissal, reeks of political expediency. 

The Gambian press, too, is profoundly compromised. Editors and journalists, many of whom possess only a high school diploma, are either ethically compromised or lack the requisite qualifications to perform their duties, particularly in the domain of investigative reporting, an area most are lacking in skills and competency. 

One must wonder whether the journalists present at the press conference were in a collective stupor, for there was a conspicuous absence of probing questions or critical analysis. Where were the demands for evidence? The calls for clarity? The press, instead of holding Minister Bah and his colleagues to account, seemed content to regurgitate their spurious claims verbatim. 

The very purpose of journalism—to question, to probe, to hold power accountable—was conspicuously absent. This abdication of journalistic responsibility reflects the concerns of philosopher Jürgen Habermas, who emphasised the role of a free press in maintaining a democratic society by providing a platform for rational discourse and critical debate. When the press fails in its duty to scrutinize those in power, it becomes complicit in the perpetuation of misinformation and the erosion of democratic values.

Let us not forget that Demba Jawo, during his short tenure as state minister, achieved more than many of his predecessors. He implemented progressive policies that expanded the media landscape, fostering an environment where diverse voices could be heard.

Under Jawo’s stewardship, media freedom flourished, and the Gambian press enjoyed a period of unprecedented openness. A simple Google search will show that The Gambia boasts of having the most rapidly growing media industry in the whole of Africa in the 21st century. 

From having only one television and only four private commercial radio stations prior to the change of government in 2016, today The Gambia has five television stations and 47 private FM stations dotted across the country—a feat that could be largely attributable to Jawo’s forward-thinking media policies. 

Empirical data from the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), The Gambia’s regulatory body for the broadcasting industry, shows that as of February 2023, The Gambia has 47 licensed radio stations and five television stations. Out of this total number of radio stations, nine are community FM radio stations, and 38 are commercial FM stations. On the other hand, four of the five television stations are commercial televisions, and one is state-owned.

The Gambia got her first radio station a half-century ago; in 1962, the national broadcaster, Radio Gambia, was established amid much pomp and pageantry as it was a progressively novel initiative that enabled Gambia and Gambians to connect with the rest of the civilised world. 

However, Radio Gambia entirely monopolized the broadcasting industry for many decades, considering there were only few private radio stations in the country during the First and Second Republics of The Gambia. Thus, the only crime Jawo committed, if there is any, would be working for a government that does not follow public administration best practices. 

But again, government, as Gambian jurist and politician Mai Ahmad Fatty could say, is a collective responsibility. No one official should attempt to take credit for any successful policy nor be discredited for its failure. In an organised bureaucracy, governmental decisions are reached upon a quorum. 

The fact that Minister Bah claimed that Jawo was able to override cabinet decisions goes to show that a state minister tends to wield more power than the head of state who is the chief policymaker—a notion as absurd as it is laughable. “The truth is rarely pure and never simple,”wrote Oscar Wilde, yet Jawo’s contributions to media reform are straightforwardly commendable, a fact Bah’s spurious allegations cannot obscure.

But let us not canonise Jawo just yet. His own role in this farce demands scrutiny. Why did he persist in a cabinet that obstructed his decisions? In his rebuttal to Bah’s claim, Jawo’s defence hinges on legal compliance and PURA’s recommendations, yet his reluctance to resign or passive stance during his tenure is puzzling. A principled resignation would have spoken volumes against mismanagement, but Jawo chose the path of least resistance, perhaps hoping against hope for a deus ex machina.

The press conference was a masterclass in evasion and misdirection. Rather than addressing the substantive issues facing The Gambia, such as economic stagnation, corruption, and inefficiency, the government chose to focus on a fabricated scandal. 

This diversionary tactic, coupled with the press’s willingness to parrot the government’s narrative, underscores a disturbing trend in Gambian journalism: the abandonment of its watchdog role. “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations,” quipped George Orwell. 

By failing to scrutinise Bah’s claims, the Gambian press has effectively become an extension of the government’s PR machinery. One can almost hear the echoes of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”, where shadows and echoes are mistaken for reality. The Gambian public deserves better than this shadow play. 

Serious reporting requires more than just soundbites and platitudes; it demands rigorous investigation, critical questioning, and a steadfast commitment to uncovering the truth. The press must reclaim its role as the Fourth Estate, challenging those in power and holding them accountable for their actions.

The press conference should have been an opportunity to interrogate the government’s motivations and the veracity of its claims. Instead, it became a platform for unchallenged political theatre. The journalists present failed to question the timing of Bah’s accusations, the lack of evidence, and the broader implications of these claims. This lack of critical engagement not only undermines the credibility of the press but also does a disservice to the public.

To truly serve the public interest, the Gambian press must rise above the fray of political machinations and focus on serious, substantive reporting. It must question the motivations behind Bah’s allegations, demand evidence, and critically examine the broader implications of this controversy. Only then can it fulfill its role as the guardian of democracy and the watchdog of government.

In this melodrama, Bah and Jawo’s conflicting narratives underscore a profound dysfunction in governance. Bah’s allegations, cloaked in sanctimony, clash spectacularly with Jawo’s legalistic rebuttals. Bah’s charges against Jawo are a smokescreen, diverting attention from the need for transparent and equitable media licensing.

As John Stuart Mill observed, “A party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life.” Yet, in The Gambia, we find neither order nor progress, only a morass of obfuscation.

And let’s not forget the overarching incompetence of the government’s approach to media licensing. The embargo by PURA on new broadcasting licenses is a classic bottleneck, stifling innovation and investment. The suggestion that licenses were issued without proper vetting underscores a glaring deficit in transparency and fairness, hinting at potential misuse of power for personal gain. 

Such restrictive practices harm the media industry by preventing new entrants from bringing fresh ideas and technologies. “Regulatory transparency and fairness are fundamental to ensuring a competitive media market that supports both economic growth and democratic governance,” affirms Professor John Kettle, a scholar in media regulation.

“I had long fancied that I could succeed if I could only get hold of a public exhibition,” he reflected about his life at the time in his 1855 autobiography, The Life of P.T. Barnum, Written by Himself. As acutely manifest in the press conference, Bah took P.T. Barnum’s propensity for showmanship, using the press conference to sell his narrative, thinking blackmailing Jawo will undermine public confidence in the iconic journalist. 

It is as if they are trying to add another chapter to Jammeh’s playbook. Lest we forget, Jammeh used to lay traps for public officials, and once he fired them, he either used his fake judiciary and the police to concoct trumped-up charges, as most former officials were charged with crimes against the state, be it economic, subversive, etc. But since Barrow does not wield the same power and influence as Jammeh, the likes of Bah tend to think using similar tactics will yield the same results.

In conclusion, the Gambian press must do better. It must hold those in power accountable, question their narratives, and seek the truth. Anything less is a betrayal of its duty to the public. The press conference, with its baseless accusations and lack of critical engagement, was a farce. 

The real story lies not in the allegations against Jawo but in the government’s ongoing failures and the press’s failure to hold it to account. The Gambian people deserve serious journalism, not soundbites and platitudes. It is time for the press to step up and do its job.

Finally, the most significant takeaway from this debacle is that intellectuals who choose to work for a government that inherently flouts international norms and public administration best practices do so at their peril. Jawo’s tenure, despite its notable achievements now overshadowed by his vilification, exemplifies the precarious nature of political appointments and underscores the need for steadfast integrity. 

By Modou Modou, 

Washington DC

Disclaimer: The views expressed are entirely those of the author and do not represent the opinions of any affiliated institutions. The author holds advanced degrees in Public Administration, Philosophy, and International Relations from universities in the United States of America.

The author has previously worked under D.A. Jawo during his tenure as editor at The Point Newspaper, thereby acquiring firsthand knowledge of Jawo on both personal and professional levels.

Furthermore, both the author and D.A. Jawo hail from Niamina in the Central River Division. However, this does not necessarily imply that the author is advocating on behalf of D.A. Jawo or any other individual or institution. He is merely assuming his role as a public intellectual to call for accountability and integrity when necessary.

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